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Maundy Thursday Reflections

April 1, 2021
Driving along the Irish coast on our honeymoon in 2014, we came across this small church with a path headed towards the sea.

This year’s Lenten journey has brought us to Maundy Thursday where we remember how Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room and gave them the gift of remembrance through the Sacrament of Communion. As I look back over this past year, so much has changed and so much is still unknown. Maundy Thursday 2020 services for us were offered via Zoom from the little chapel at Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. Maundy Thursday 2021 services will be offered via Zoom from the office and prayer space in our home in Carrollton, Georgia. So much has changed… so much has stayed the same… so much is still unknown.

It is with that unknown in mind that I find myself reflecting on that evening when the Passover meal was transformed by Jesus in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup with his disciples. The account in the gospel of Mark shares the following: And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born. While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:18-24)

A slow reading (Lectio Divina) of this passage offered me some insights as certain words and phrases shimmered for me. One of you will betray me… one who is eating with me… better for that one not to have been born… Exploring the third phrase (better not to have been born) reminded me of Job and Jeremiah.

Chapter three of the book of Job begins with these words: After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. (Job 3:1) Jeremiah said the following in chapter 15: Woe is me, my mother, that you ever bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! (15:10a) Later in chapter 20 he reiterates this thought by saying: Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! (20:14) Job and Jeremiah were cursing the day that they had been born out of frustration and pain over what had been happening to them. Yet, the words in Mark 21 the words of condemnation came as a result of what Judas was about to do to Jesus.

If you took this phrase and lifted out of the context of the larger narrative, you would hear Jesus condemning Judas for doing something that he had, according to scripture, been ordained by God to do. If you do that, then the immediate reaction would be hatred. If Jesus had hated Judas, he would have kicked him to the curb immediately. Instead of doing that, Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup with all of his disciples, including Judas. In the gospel of John’s account, Jesus even washed the feet of Judas along with the other disciples despite the fact that he knew Judas was going to betray him. What do these actions on the part of Jesus reveal? They reveal the depth of God’s reconciling love which Jesus had taught about during his three years of public ministry!

Loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you… those are some of the more difficult parts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29) or the much shorter Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-49). Jesus literally carried these two teachings out in the Upper Room and from the Cross. He shared the bread and the cup with Judas. He didn’t bar him from the table, he welcomed him to the table.

In the history of my own denomination (Presbyterian Church (USA)) and the larger Reformed family people were barred from receiving communion. The rationale for doing so was found in Romans 11:27-28, Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. The original context for these words was because of the trouble the young movement had with the observance of the agape meal being turned into some sort of hedonistic and drunken party. These words have been taken by the church in its many forms through the ages to be words of condemnation, punishment, and separation. Yet I still think about the fact that Jesus offered the bread and the cup to the one whom he would have had every right to hate and call his enemy!

In his essay, A Body of Broken Bones, Thomas Merton ponders love and hate. “There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 72) Especially during these times of polarization, hatred, and fear I have been contemplating how Christ-followers can be the embodiment of God’s love to this broken world. This is especially crucial during these times where White Christian nationalism continues to rear its ugly head, creating division and hatred based on fear in this country.

Merton continues with his thoughts about Christian love. “The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. That faith that one is loved by God although unworthy–or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth! In the true Christian vision of God’s love, the idea of worthiness loses its significance. Revelation of the mercy of God makes the whole problem of worthiness something almost laughable: the discovery that worthiness is of no special consequence (since no one could ever, by himself, be strictly worthy to be loved with such a love) is a true liberation of the spirit. And until this discovery is made, until this liberation has been brought about by the divine mercy, man is imprisoned in hate.” (p. 75)

As we enter into the night where the bread is broken and the cup is passed, my prayer is that we will enter with our eyes and hearts open for something new to consider. For me, that something new is to reflect on the love that Jesus had for Judas and for those who wanted him condemned to death and executed on the cross. As I receive the bread and the cup this night, in my mind’s eye I will be seated at the same table as Judas. At that table, may I discover anew the depth of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. May I indeed find renewal in the depths of my being. Perhaps at the table the prison of isolation, hatred, and fear can be broken open, setting we the captives free. Then we can be freed to love as we are loved by God.

One Comment
  1. Thanks for your thought-provoking reflection.

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